Monday, March 10, 2008

OLD FAVORITE From March 2007

Homeland insecurities rise like a kite on National Mall

by Amy L. CornellCommunity columnist |
March 29, 2007

Last spring break, my family took a trip to Washington, D.C. The post 9-11 ethos of our nation’s capitol alarmed us a bit. Park police, capitol police, armed guards with big shiny badges and holsters make up the new population of D.C.

If you enter a building anywhere on the National Mall, you are searched, wanded, metal-detected and patted down. Nail-clippers, keys, loose change and in one case a Yu-Gi-Oh key chain were checked at the door. Tour guides issued long lists of forbidden actions followed by stern warnings of imprisonment and fines for the disobedient. Our nation has a meaner, nastier capital city. All of us T-shirt-clad, camera-wielding, snack-carrying, kid-herding visitors constantly balanced coats and backpacks and cell phones to make sure we weren’t acting like terrorists in the city.

One sunny, windy day, I carried a kite with us to the National Mall. I hoped flying a kite on the most famous stretch of green space in the country would be something the kids would always remember. I led them out onto the grass and they gathered around me to break the wind and watch as I assembled the kite.

“This can’t be legal.” My husband Geoff’s voice is stern. “This can’t be allowed. Look around you. Don’t even try this.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” I said. “How can kite flying be illegal?”

“You know it will pose some kind of threat to someone,” he said. “This isn’t the beach. This is Washington, D.C. We shouldn’t take any chances. Especially not with kids around.”

Could this be true? Could we be the evening’s headline on CNN? Hoosier woman sent to Guantanamo for flying a kite on the nation’s mall.

I teased him, “You really think that flying a kite on the mall of the nation’s capital is illegal? I’d like to see someone stop me.”

Our son spoke, “Mom, we want to fly the kite.”

“Of course, we are going to fly the kite, honey. It’s not illegal to fly a kite,” I said, as a mother says to children. But in the back of my mind I think, “Or is it?”

The kids and I took the kite out to a grassy patch of mall, and Geoff endured some minutes of me showing the kids how to launch a kite.

“Let some string out,” I yelled over the rushing wind and laughter.

As the kids got the hang of it and the kite climbed higher into the sky Geoff admonished, “Not too high. Not too much string.” The kids listened and kept the kite low. Consequently, the kite crashed to the ground again and again.

Geoff paced and frowned. The sun and the playful kids and the fact the armed guards had not gunned us down did not warm his heart. “Pull it in, pull it in,” he said, again and again. “You’ll hit someone.”

Finally, my husband could endure no more, and dragged the kids away to see the Declaration of Independence at the National Archive. I was alone at last with the kite, which I allowed to sail as high as it would go. My purple kite against the blue sky and the Capitol building made a lifetime memory for me.

Tourists pointed. A father with a baby said to me as I passed his way, “My baby loves your kite.” Two young men stopped to watch and take pictures of me.

Finally, the wind changed direction and yanked my beautiful kite out of the sky. She fell hard and quick, and like a balloon losing its air, picked a man walking on the path around the mall and hit him on the head. I am happy to report to you that I did not get arrested that day.

Amy Cornell’s column appears every other Thursday in The Herald-Times. You can reach her at

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